(Fort Wayne Monthly “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” - Apr 2012, closes. Feb 2012, No. 88)
Who was Charles Miner the early 1900s Fort Wayne photographer? He was known to be a diligent professional that led to his success and in turn was held in high esteem by his contemporaries. Miner’s work was extensive with his photography found in the collections of the Allen County Fort Wayne Historical Society as well as the Indiana Historical Society in Indianapolis. Inside the University of Saint Francis’ “Brookside” a 4 feet wide by 3 feet high photo mural of John Bass at his desk graces a second floor hallway wall. A 1906 The Beautiful City of Fort Wayne booklet with its 30 full-page photos begins with one of the Allen County Court House carrying the imprimatur of “C.W. Miner.” In the stacks of the Allen County Public Library copies of the 1911 Fort Wayne with Might and Main feature the work of Charles Miner that include over 200 of his photos.
Charles became known for excellence in his work whether it be fine portraits, enlargements or color work. His quality exterior and interior views were attractive to businesses for their catalogs and other commercial purposes be they machinery, furniture or rail cars. Miner specialized in cameras and lenses for a variety of assignments, large or small, with the reputation for careful attention to detail and skillful execution.
Today, anyone with a cell phone is likely equipped with a digital camera feature. Professional photography involves a sense of composition, lighting, chemistry, equipment technology among other talents. Back in the late 1800s the profession was in its early stages and took a lot of dedication not to mention physical endurance, to ply the art of photo making with its, bulky box cameras, glass plates, and explosive powders for lighting. Now we click away, delete the undesirable, revise the reality of the shot with digital editing, and post the flattering ones online in hopes that friends will take notice. It is one of those professions in which art and science meet. Photography was different 135 years ago. Professional photography demands are poles apart commanding a mixed discipline of artist, technician, problem solver, and people handler.
Charles Winslow Miner was born on January 26, 1866 to Simon P. and Melissa Miner both originally from Ohio who had moved to Columbia City in the mid 1800s. At an early age, Charles became interested in photography. To learn the photographic art, young Charles served an apprenticeship under Levi Monroe “Roe” Jones whose studio was in the 200 block of East Van Buren Street in Columbia City. Roe Jones was especially known for his large size portraits. Here Charles learned how clients were handled from waiting room to dressing room, and then schooled in the toning, developing, enlarging, printing and framing all a part of the process.
After completing his early education and by 1887, Miner moved to Fort Wayne where he secured a position with the photography studio of Felix Schanz at 112 Calhoun Street. Later, about 1902 when the “Cartesian” street building address numbering system was made sensible, the number was changed to 922.
Charles was employed as a “photographer” for “F. Schanz” and is listed as such in the 1891-1892 Fort Wayne City Directory. Schanz at age 26 had moved from New York to Fort Wayne in 1881, and by 1886 had opened the studio on Calhoun Street. Five or so years older than Miner, Schanz who went on to an illustrious career in his own right, just as Roe Jones had done, served as an important mentor during the critical years of Miner’s formation.
Residing in a boarding house, Charles Miner lived at 62 Douglas Avenue from 1891 to 1896. In 1897, he opened his own studio in the 700 block of Calhoun Street over the Rurode Dry Goods store. Then in 1898, as his business increased he moved to 23 West Wayne now 121 West Wayne. The studio name was listed as “Miner & Law” photography studio according to city directories of the day. Active in the community for several years, Miner was a member of the Fort Wayne Elks Lodge 155 as well as the local lodge of the Knights of Pythias.
It took him a while, about age 39, before he met and married Fort Wayne resident Mary S. Criswell on November 28, 1905. Dates are not certain but the couple had a daughter Sarah M. Miner who was born about 1908 followed by a second daughter Mildred born around 1912. The 1910 and 1911 city directories shows Miner’s Studio, Charles W. Miner proprietor, was located at 121 West Wayne, which was the same location as but changed when the city’s street number system was adjusted.
Charles suffered a sever attack of asthma in November 1911 and for six months his health gradually declined. Lying on a cot in his home, after he rose to sit upright in a chair a few moments later he expired. According to the Journal Gazette, Charles was 46 years of old when he died on May 22, 1912, at 9:00 a.m. in his 1030 East Wayne Street home. The business was left to be managed by Mary Miner. The next year 1913 the studio was managed by Estella Miner and during the same month one year after Charles’ death, Mary, suffering from tuberculosis, died on May 3, 1913.
Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi © is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; hosts “On the Heritage Trail” which is broadcast Mondays on 89.1 fm WBOI; and “Historia Nostra” heard on Redeemer Radio106.3 fm. Enjoy his previously published columns on the History Center’s blog “Our Stories” at historycenterfw.blogspot.com.
Note: You can see a photo of Charles Miner’s studio at present day 121 W. Wayne street in the Indiana Historical Society’s digital photography collection.